a tale of two hats

a tale of two hats

Tracy&James | Thursday, 22 August 2019

Last weekend saw Tracy and I on a lovely beat of the River Test as guests of our friend Gilly Bate. Gilly, who recently passed the AAPGAI assessment, organises the fishing there in partnership with Fly Odyssey. The water was every bit as gin clear as the brochures say, with flowing ribbons of weed interspersed with gravel patches that were almost always occupied by a brown trout or a grayling. The beat itself comprised of the main river plus a couple of side channels, cut to supply water to the mill buildings, so more than enough water to keep a pair of anglers busy for the day.

I think we were all in a pretty chilled mood as the day started with coffee, biscuits and a general chat about all things fishy, followed by a walk around the beat pointing out its features and limits.  It’s always a good idea to show me where the permission to fish starts and ends, especially after my last trip to the Test where, after having a pretty spectacular day, I found out that I’d spent most of it fishing somewhere I shouldn’t have been.  I made sure my instinct to wander off was curbed this time.

When we decided to start fishing we found things were tricky.  The trout were not rising to the small sedges and caenis that were on the water and neither did they look to be darting after any sub-surface prey.  I floated a klink over a number of fish, none of which acknowledged its passing in the slightest.  I subsequent tried a tiny GRHE which at least got a response – the fish moved sideways out of its way and then returned to their station.  As I met up with Tracy for lunch I found this was the story of her morning also, many different flies cast at fish and almost always ignored – although she did have one missed take from a fish that was sat, unseen, somewhere behind the one she was targeting.

I don’t know what happened over the lunch break but when we got back to the river the fish seemed in a more co-operative mood and Tracy soon had a beautifully marked wild Test trout in the net which took a small dry sedge pattern.  This was shortly followed by a second which was enough persuasion for me to change to exactly the same fly.  A third and a fourth fish for Tracy followed.  Now I like to see Tracy catching fish, but being 4 – nil down on the same stretch of river whilst using the same fly was starting to raise a few questions in my mind.  When the score got to 5 – nil I decided I knew exactly what the issue was – my hat!

On our last fishing trip in Jersey I managed to snap the magnifier that is attached to the brim of my cap.  This I now find absolutely essential for threading the eyes of flies and knot tying to the point that without one I find changing the fly so frustrating that I probably would rather fish with whatever was already tied on.  Tracy also has a magnifier but her eyesight is not yet as bad as mine, as such, when we got to the Test and I remembered that I hadn’t repaired my viewers we decided we’d swap caps.  So Tracy wore my cap with years of ingrained fishing mojo, and I wore hers with years of ingrained John Frieda frizz ease.

Now I’m a pretty logical person, my job demands this of me, but at 5 – nil down I ‘knew’ the hat was the problem.  After discussing this with Tracy we decided we’d swap back to our own headwear – I’d just come and find her if I needed to swap flies.  After heading to the top of the beat, I cast a nymph under the overhanging trees (where I’d previously had no interest from the fish I knew were beneath it) and this time it was taken by the biggest trout of the day.  After a short walk downstream to a deeper pool I added another two trout and a grayling.  This continued and before I knew it I was in the lead on the fish front.  This was enough to convince Tracy it was indeed the hat that made the difference and not something I’d just made up because I was feeling grumpy about not catching.

There’s always something magical about a day’s fishing irrespective of how logical you are.  I find it’s best to just forget the part of your psyche that screaming at you to be sensible and just go with the flow.  Next week I’ll be taking my hat and its pixie lodgers to the River Dee where I expect more magic to happen.

Have a great weekend, James.